Another vote on entrance?
May 26, 2002
Aspenites may well get another chance to vote on the Entrance to Aspen, but figuring out what to ask the voters may prove as divisive as the controversial entrance issue itself.The citizens who turned in petitions to City Hall last week are hoping voters get a chance to overturn the City Council’s decision to convey property to the state for the realignment of Highway 82 across the Marolt open space.Some council members are apparently interested in polling the voters, as well, but not necessarily about their decision to turn over the right of way to the Colorado Department of Transportation.In fact, the city isn’t sure what to do with the ballot initiative put forth by the petitioners.The petitioners have asked the council to adopt an ordinance that would repeal its decision to convey the property to CDOT without the approval of city electors.The council approved a resolution last month to grant the easement for the highway realignment on the west side of town. Voters approved the so-called “straight shot” realignment – a two-lane highway plus light rail – in 1996.The resolution is an administrative act that can’t be repealed via an ordinance, according to City Attorney John Worcester. The council could refuse to put the initiative on a ballot, since it can’t be bound by the results of the vote anyway, he said.”You can’t seek to repeal a resolution,” he said. “I don’t know what the council will do at that point.”Cliff Weiss, one of the organizers of the petition drive, said he believes the group collected about 760 signatures, a bit shy of the 780 needed. Once the City Clerk’s office has gone over the petitions and tossed out the invalid signatures, Weiss suspects the group will need to obtain the signatures of another 200 or so registered Aspen voters.Weiss said he hopes the council doesn’t ignore the concerns of so many citizens.Although he hinted that the group might be willing to turn to the courts in its fight to halt the property transfer, Weiss said he’s not really looking for a legal battle. Instead, he hopes the council gets the hint: It needs to poll the community again on the entrance, he said.”All we’re asking for is a clear vote, where we’re given all the alternatives,” Weiss said.”If 800 people come to them and say, `We don’t like what you’re doing, and we think you should slow down and find a solution that has a greater consensus or mandate from the voters,’ they should listen,” he said. “Or, they’re going to hear from us when they come up for re-election.”In conveying the highway easement, the city followed through on an agreement it made in 1998, City Councilman Tom McCabe noted.”I think we were obligated to do that,” he said. “The past councils made the deal. I don’t think we really had a choice. It’s like a contract.”But McCabe agrees there needs to be another vote on the entrance, possibly as soon as November.”I don’t know how everybody else on the council feels about it,” he added.Whatever the ballot poses, McCabe said he hopes it provides a definitive answer – or as close as Aspen can get to one – on the community’s desires for the entrance.”There will be a subset of people who will argue that it’s bogus for one reason or another,” he predicted.There are local citizens delving into a potential ballot question that would satisfy the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, according to McCabe.”I know there are several people out there trying to understand what the federal government thinks,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure that whatever we ask the voters, we have considered all the variables that are left to us.”It’s important that any new entrance proposal not trigger the need for a new environmental impact statement, McCabe said. The lengthy process required for a new EIS would probably knock the entrance out of the next round of state funding for highway projects.”The funding from the state is critical. That is the critical piece,” he said.The state Legislature created a new $15 billion transportation fund this spring, but Colorado Transportation Commission documents indicate it will be 2007 before funds for the entrance are available, if the project gets funding.With the money still five years away, Councilman Tim Semrau said he thinks the city should hold off on another entrance question and see what technology brings in the way of mass-transit improvements in the interim.”The City Council, at some point, absolutely will ask the question of what type of mass transit the community wants in the entrance to Aspen,” he predicted. “It would be inappropriate to ask it this fall, because our transit options are expanding every year.”Weiss, however, doesn’t want the citizenry polled again just on bus lanes or a train.He said he’d like to see voters asked if they’d like to keep the existing alignment with some modifications and if they would simply prefer a four-lane highway into town. The latter is a legitimate question, Weiss conceded, even though any form of the straight shot would take the highway through his back yard.”I think they have to ask it. I think it’s only fair, not that I’m willing to live with it,” he said. “I’d have to move.”